Mental Health Checkup

Do you often become stressed if you can’t work? Have you often put work before your hobbies, activities or exercise? Do you often work so much that it has negatively affected your health? Do you often work to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression?

This obsession with work may point to serious mental health problems. You may be a workaholic, displaying more behaviors linked to ADHD, anxiety, OCD, and depression than those who are not obsessed with work, according to PLOS ONE. But, you’re not alone.

Mental health was the most expensive category of care in 2013.

In 2013, Americans spent more on mental health care than any other category of medical care, according to Health Affairs. It outspent heart conditions, which was the costliest category 20 years ago, as well as traumatic injuries, cancer and pulmonary conditions. In fact, more than 40 percent of the $201 billion spent on mental health care services was on institutionalized individuals. And, it’s suggested that spending is associated with an increase in the number of Americans seeking mental health care and new treatments reaching more of the affected population.

The new debate over mental health treatment spreads.

New advances in neurology and imaging are challenging traditional approaches in psychiatry, a field that has long emphasized treating symptoms over finding biological causes. Scientists know there is a relationship between biological processes in the brain and certain mental health issues, but there are still striking gaps in knowledge and the symptom-based approach has been called flawed. These limitations are one reason psychiatry has historically focused on treating symptoms rather than discovering underlying biological causes. However, 2013 marked a shift in treatment of mental health care. The approach changed when the government decided to define mental disorders as biological disorders involving brain circuits.

And, recently the House overwhelmingly approved a mental health care bill.

In an effort to fix our broken mental health system, lawmakers praised the bill that would authorize grants for programs intended to make mental health care more effective, as well as suicide prevention programs and initiatives to bolster early intervention for children with mental health issues; and bolster federal mental health parity requirements, which require insurers to cover mental health care services at the same level at which they cover medical services. Currently, it’s being called upon for additional funding and new policies, such as regulations that would further improve parity within the health system and boost the country’s number of psychiatric beds.

Despite these efforts, there are shortages. Millions do not have access to mental health services.

While the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to offer coverage for behavioral health services in their plans, a growing shortage of mental health professionals may leave millions without access to those services. 

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About 96.5 million Americans live in areas that lack mental health specialists, up from 2012, according to a HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration. If you live in the New England area, you’re in luck – the top five states with the best access to mental health care include Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, Delaware and Iowa, per Mental Health America. In contrast, the states with the worst access to mental health services include Nevada, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. (Measured by access to treatment, access to insurance, cost and quality of coverage, and access to special education.)

But there is still help.

The shortage of mental health providers can be attributed to how long it takes to become a certified behavioral health specialist, low pay, frequent turnover for some positions and no increase in federally funded resident programs to train doctors. Advances in technology could soon help to relieve the shortage, but the American Psychiatric Association says it would most adequately be addressed through a team effort between nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other providers who can treat behavioral health problems. If you’re starting to feel unwell, you don’t go straightaway to an oncologist or a surgeon. If you can’t see a psychiatrist, start with a physician.

Proactively paying attention to your mental health will also pay-off. Listen to the co-worker telling you to stop working so much. Think about how you can free up more time to be mindful. And, stop spending more time working than you intended. If you need a mental break, take time, make your overall health a priority and get a checkup.

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